04/16/13 22:14:00    

By Michael Mealling

This op-ed was published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution earlier today in their MyAJC edition. If my readers could go to the AJC version and use their Facebook/Twitter buttons to Like/Share it I would greatly appreciate it.

Michael Mealling
President, Georgia Space Society
I grew up in Tifton and Brunswick and I have family in Waycross, Moultrie, and Savannah. I drive through those parts of the state these days and I see small towns dying. For the longest time I had no idea how to fix that problem. But now I do. The proposed spaceport in Camden County is the best opportunity to help south Georgia's economy in the past century and we should do absolutely whatever it takes to make it reality.  
When NASA was looking for a location to launch rockets in the early 1960s, a group of Georgia businessmen promoted Southeast Georgia as a potential location. At times their proposal ran a close second to other sites in Florida. After a great deal of discussion, visits and evaluation, NASA decided to locate their facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  
Prior to that selection, eastern central Florida was very empty with only 17,000 people. Since then, Kennedy Space Center has grown to become the world’s leading space launch facility, one of the nation’s leading tourist attractions, and helped spur the population's growth to 700,000. Imagine it they had chosen Southeast Georgia instead.  
Had that decision been made, Georgia would be the nation’s leading space launch location. Coastal Georgia would have received the legions of tourists who come to the visitor’s center and watch space launches. The high paying, high tech jobs created by the space industry would be in Georgia. Those changes would have been dramatic.  
Very seldom in life do you get a second chance, but now Georgia is getting a do-over. Several years ago NASA decided to push launches to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) into the commercial arena. NASA will still do research into deep space and government related launch, but LEO activities will be done by commercial companies. Those companies need a location for commercial launches. Government launch sites, like the Kennedy Space Center, place the priority of launch on government needs, and commercial launch takes a back seat. If commercial launch is going to move into the mainstream, those companies need a site that puts the priority on commercial needs.  
Georgia has what some have called the perfect location. The Camden County site meets every requirement the commercial launch industry needs: flights happen over the ocean, weather permits year round operations, population is limited, and cities and infrastructure are close enough to be accessible. An industry insider recently told a state representative, “In real estate it’s location, location, location.  You have the best location in the country for a commercial spaceport.  If you develop it right you will have the best commercial spaceport in the country, possibly the world.  If you don’t it will be the biggest mistake in 10 generations.”   
Who would have thought in 1960 that Cape Canaveral would become what it has become today? Georgia missed out on that tremendous opportunity 60 years ago. Texas and Florida see this opportunity and are aggressively going after it with significant resources, including cash incentives. Spaceport Georgia is being lead by a small county with few resources. Georgia has been given a second chance for something very special… a chance to become the Cape Canaveral of commercial spaceflight. Decisions are being made now by companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace.  
For the sake of cities like Jesup, Woodbine, and Blackshear, the Governor and the state economic development office should do everything possible to attract these companies. Double whatever the other states are offering. Recall the House and Senate if necessary. The future of south Georgia depends on it.

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